The Winnipeg Jets will try to extend a three-game win streak when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
Winnipeg played the first game of a back-to-back set on Thursday, winning 5-2 over the host St. Louis Blues. Jets center Mark Scheifele recorded two assists, including his 600th career point when he set up Blake Wheeler's power-play goal that made it 3-0 in the second period.
The Jets remain tied for the Central Division lead with the Dallas Stars, who also won on Thursday. Winnipeg's success is a surprising development, particularly in a division that features the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche and with the Jets widely considered to have needed a culture change in the offseason.
Part of that alteration was bringing in former Stars head coach Rick Bowness, who made the difficult decision to strip Wheeler of the captain's "C."
That decision seemingly is paying dividends, as Wheeler has responded to losing the captaincy by putting up impressive offensive numbers. The goal against the Blues was his eighth of the season, part of a two-point night that increased Wheeler's point total to 24 in 25 games.
"Blake was able to step back and embrace the change, he's been a leader without having to be a leader," Bowness said earlier this week. "In doing that we gave other players more responsibility, and Blake has simply done his job so well. He's turned any negative into a positive."
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have experienced more negatives than positives this season.
Chicago enters play Friday tied for the second-lowest point total in the NHL and is coming off back-to-back shutout defeats.
In the most recent setback, Chicago fell to the red-hot New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Tuesday in Newark, N.J. The Blackhawks only mustered 24 shots, including just four in the third period.
"We're just not getting any puck luck, but it goes like that," Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said after that loss. "I think you have to create your own. You have to just bear down on a few of those chances and try and create a little bit more offensive zone time."
The struggles in Chicago have only added to the ongoing saga with long-time stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
The longtime faces of the franchise who lifted three Stanley Cups for the Blackhawks are both in the final year of their contracts and will be unrestricted free agents in the summer.
With each Chicago loss, the likelihood of Kane and Toews waiving their no-movement clauses to get traded in season goes up.
Kane is leading Chicago with 20 points in 25 games this season. Toews is third on the team with 14 points in 24 games.
If there's a benefit for Chicago, it's that Winnipeg is completing a back-to-back and had to travel on Thursday night after its game in St. Louis.
The Jets also likely will turn to backup goalie David Rittich, who has an .881 save percentage in five starts. The Jets' No. 1 goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, ranks fourth in the NHL this season with a 2.26 goals-against average and second with a .932 save percentage.
Chicago likely will start Arvid Soderblom in goal. The rookie has a 3.19 GAA and a .906 save percentage in 12 games this season.
--Field Level Media